A Gender Swap Makes Sondheim’s ‘Company’ Soar

A Gender Swap Makes Sondheim’s ‘Company’ Soar

Putting a female in the driver’s seat works wonders, too, for the great comic duet “Barcelona,” which presents our sexually rapacious heroine with a sweet, smiling flight attendant, Andy, as dim as he is hunky. Performing the bulk of the scene in his underpants, Richard Fleeshman is a revelation in the part. So is Jonathan Bailey, in syllable-perfect form as the reluctant wedding partner to Paul (a memorably gentle Alex Gaumond). A jittery trip to the heterosexual altar has been refashioned to accommodate gay marriage, as befits a story updated to the present and to couplings of all kinds. The corresponding song, “Getting Married Today,” raises the roof afresh.

Women matter to this production onstage and off, starting with Ms. Christie, whose occasional Lewis Carroll-esque visuals suggest Bobbie plunging down a rabbit hole of her own fearful imagination, and Ms. Elliott, whose previous reclamation of another iconic New York title, “Angels in America,” didn’t hint at her success here. Broadway’s top-drawer star Patti LuPone is in roaring voice as the astringent if solicitous Joanne, who pushes Bobbie to open her heart. In a recent interview with The Sunday Times of London, Ms. LuPone said with some astonishment that she had never before in her storied career been directed in a musical by a woman: Well, it was worth the wait.

As a tremulous, moist-eyed Ms. Craig takes center stage at the climax to sing “Being Alive,” it’s as if a realm of possibility has been revealed like some sort of newly acquired vision, which, come to think of it, is exactly what this “Company” possesses: clarity and insight and the ability to make a time-tested musical feel brand new. Ms. Elliott’s achievement equals the much-acclaimed London revival of Mr. Sondheim’s “Follies,” which will return to the National Theater here in February. Then, audiences will be in the fortunate position of being able to see these shows, as the lyric from “Company” puts it, “Side by Side.”

A more immediate companion piece to “Company” can be found in the writer-director Nina Raine’s new play, “Stories,” running through Nov. 28 at the National, which also hosted the premiere of her last play, “Consent,” in 2017. (That one transferred to the West End.)

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